Synopsis from Goodreads.
Velvet is an orphan. She struggles to make ends meet by working in a steam, laundry, where the work is back-breaking and exhausting. So when she attracts the attention of the glamorous clairvoyant Madame Savoya, she cannot believe her good fortune.
Raised to the status of lady’s maid, Velvet is given elegant clothes to wear and is brought to live in a grand house in London. But the longer she works for Madame Savoya, the more she discovers about the mysterious world of a spiritual medium. Velvet soon realises that her employer is not quite what she seems and that this knowledge could put her very life in danger
I’ve always been intrigued by mediums but I’ve never been to one. To me, mediums are the people who charge you the earth and advertise in the back of magazines next to the scantily clad ladies and the elderly people modelling beige clothing/climbing out of baths.
As much as I’d like to believe in them, I don’t. But I still find them fascinating and I think that’s because of the whole culture of mediums and all the secretive, smoke-and-mirrors razzmatazz.
You see I’m a huge Derren Brown fan* and, I know I know, before you all bellow at me and tell me he’s not a medium, I know he’s not! But I just love what he does and how he explores the effect of psychology on people when faced with the paranormal.
So of course I was going to read Velvet which is, in essence, a story about the tricks of mediums at the turn of the century. I’m pretty ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything by Mary Hooper before. Well, OK that’s actually a lie, I read her story in the fabulous Losing It and I really enjoyed it. But never one of her novels. I’m trying to actively seek out books that I wouldn’t usually read and historical YA is one of the genres that I seem to have unintentionally avoided.
And Mary Hooper is pretty much the go-to-girl for historical YA, is she not?
Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. The setting, which is make-or-break for historical fiction, was fantastic and extremely well-researched. You could almost feel the grime working its way under your finger nails and the smoke from the factories clinging to your used-to-be-white petticoats.
I think my favourite thing about this book is that Ms Hooper never turned it into a cheap paranormal story. While there were atmospheric scenes, the book was always very much a historical story that explored the culture and the tricks that mediums used (suggestion, science, showmanship, you know the drill) rather than asking the “Oooooh, could it be real?!” question. And I think that the way Ms Hooper made Velvet very naïve (perhaps a bit too naïve at some points), was a nice way of handling this because even when Velvet was getting into a bit of a tizz the reader was always able to see the bigger picture. And through the veil… muhahhahaaa.
And while I guessed the twists and turns pretty early on, it didn’t mither me too much. I could’ve done with a bit more of the history behind mediums and a bit more of an insight into the practice and why people, intelligent people, believed in them but, like I said before, that’s just something I’d find interesting and it’s completely personal preference.
So apart from that, I really did like this story and it’s really nice to read a book about something that’s rarely covered in YA fiction. Or, well, maybe not covered in YA fiction because the dead do like to converse with our YA heroes and heroines quite often… but from a different angle.
Next time I’m in the mood for some history, I think I’ll definitely go straight to Ms Hooper.
*Did you watch the episode where he investigates the ghost hunter? So fascinating. I love him and his clever beardy face.